Discover why cybercriminals are targeting property owners and how to protect your liability.
Have you ever considered that criminals rob banks because that’s where the money is? It seems like a simple theory of crime, but it has some value. Today, money is in real estate and if you are a landlord, you are a very attractive target for cybercriminals. These are the modern-day bank robbers who use technology to steal information. Once your information or your tenants’ is in their hands, they can sell it or use it to access bank accounts, real estate records, and more.
How Cybercriminals Could Steal Your Property
You know what your property is worth. But even if you have a large mortgage and little equity, a criminal could get away with a lot of money by stealing your deed. In the digital age, property theft is not necessarily a physical crime. While you keep your doors locked and monitor the security system at your property, a criminal could steal it right out from under you.
With some critical personal information (like your Social Security number, your full name, and a copy of your signature), a cybercriminal can file paperwork that transfers property ownership to them. They can then refinance the mortgage and cash out your equity or open a home equity line of credit. They can even pretend to sell the property. One property owner didn’t realize her house had been stolen until she saw a “for sale” listing of her house. Without ever entering the property, a stranger had stolen it and attempted to sell it to some unsuspecting buyer. If the cybercriminal had gotten a cash offer, he would have been gone with the money before anyone realized what happened. The rightful owner of the property would have struggled to prove she actually owned it, and the new buyer would have been out a significant amount of money with no property to show for it.
Why the Information You File Away is a Treasure Trove to Cybercriminals
As a landlord, you might be a high-value target for cybercriminals because you possess something even more valuable than your property. You have a treasure trove of personal identity information you collect from tenants and prospective tenants. You likely have address histories, Social Security numbers, and email addresses in your files. A cybercriminal could sell that information on the dark web for a tidy profit. Your email may also contain bank account numbers for rent payments, which cyberthieves are happy to pilfer.
Once a cyberthief gains access to information you have collected, they can also use it to impersonate you or your tenants. They can apply for loans and open credit card accounts all in your name or the names of your unsuspecting renters. By the time you become aware of the breach, someone else will have racked up debt in your name.
Understand the Potential for Liability as a Landlord
Because you are running a business, even if you only rent out one unit, you are responsible for safeguarding any personal information that is entrusted to you. Even though you are collecting this information for legitimate purposes, you could be held liable if any criminal activity takes place.
If one of your tenants becomes the victim of identity theft, they may sue you. Identity theft is a traumatic crime that can take years and thousands of dollars to recover from. Most people do not carry any type of insurance against identity theft, so they can feel exposed and isolated when it happens. They want to know why it happened to them. They want someone to blame, and the landlord becomes the likely target.
How to Protect Your Valuables
The details of your property ownership are easily discoverable online in public records. It is a good idea to review those records periodically to look for any changes that might signal someone is tampering with your deed or diverting your mail to a different address. Also, review your credit report regularly to see if there are any unauthorized loans or credit accounts.
Your rental files, and all the information about your rental business, need to be secured. Here are some tips for keeping that information safe:
- If you keep paper files, be sure to secure them at all times and shred documents before discarding them.
- Use strong passwords on all your devices: phone, tablet, computer.
- Do not use public Wi-Fi networks.
- Never send or receive information like account numbers through email.
- Verify any contacts asking for tenant or business information before sharing details.
Recognizing the value of what you have and taking your responsibility to protect it seriously are the first steps is avoiding a potential financial disaster for you, your tenants, and your business. The next step is securing the right insurance coverage for your liability exposures. Contact a local insurance agent to learn more about how Millers Mutual Insurance can help protect your rental business with our Data Response and Liability coverage.